Stunned when I heard the news.

Less than 48 hours after playing a key part in Atlantic’s 21-0 win over Des Moines Christian, one of the Trojan defensive backs was in a hospital in Omaha, fighting for his life. This, the result of a terrible accident near Anita on a cold, windy Sunday afternoon.

Yes, there’s plenty of times I’ve captured Steele McLaren with my camera. I’ve posted a few on my Facebook and personal Twitter accounts. Please look some of those up.

The heartening thing I’ve seen is how this community has already shown its love and prayers toward this young man and his family. Someone started a support group on Facebook and it quickly drew hundreds of members. Teams from across Iowa voiced their support for Steele and his teammates.

I know Steele is going to weigh heavy on the minds of the Trojans when they take the field for their first “round of 16” game vs. West Marshall Friday night at State Center. But I’ve seen many times how situations like this can inspire great performances. I can’t wait to see what unfolds this week as Atlantic – it’s a battle of the Trojans, as West Marshall has the same mascot – takes the field, playing not only for their community but for their teammate and buddy, the guy who wears No. 32.

Until then, please pray for Steele and his recovery, which will no doubt be years in the making. I’ve seen it happen before, and I know God – working through our doctors and medical experts – does wonderful things and works miracles. And please support Dustin and Jess, their spouses, Chase and Garrett and everyone else whose lives Steele has touched. They need you more than ever.


* * *

Playoff Rumblings, Part 3:

Another week of football playoffs is in the books, and here’s some thoughts about what happened around the state this week:

  • Of the 96 teams that made the “round of 16”/traditional playoff cut, all five conferences where News-Telegraph area schools are members are have teams still alive.

Atlantic is one of four Hawkeye Ten Conference schools still playing, the Trojans of course part of the Class 2A field. Class 3A Council Bluffs Lewis Central and Harlan and Class A Council Bluffs St. Albert are also in.

The Western Iowa Conference also has four still alive – area schools Audubon (eight-man) and Riverside (Class A), along with Logan-Magnolia (Class A) and Underwood (Class 1A). CAM (eight-man) is the lone team still standing from the Rolling Valley Conference. Both ACGC (West Central Activities Conference) and Griswold (Corner Conference) have been eliminated, but each of their leagues has one team still alive: the WCAC’s Van Meter in Class 1A and the Corner’s Fremont-Mills in eight-man.

  • All four teams in the Class 2A pod Atlantic is in – Greene County, PCM of Monroe and West Marshall – posted shutouts in their “round of 32” games, winning by a combined margin of 166-0. Those four games were among 22 statewide where the loser failed to score.
  • South O’Brien needed just a touchdown and two-point conversion to squeak out an 8-6 win over Ridge View in a Class A game; the Wolverines’ output was the least needed to win in the “round of 32.” One of Audubon’s possible future opponents, Remsen St. Mary’s in eight-man, scored 71, the most, with Ankeny’s 70-0 rout of Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson in a Class 4A game ranking second.
  • For those who follow the Class 4A-heavy metro conferences (with plenty of Class 3A’ers in the mix), the Mississippi Valley Conference, the league comprised of schools from Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo-Cedar Falls area – has the most teams still standing, with eight. The Central Iowa Metropolitan League has seven schools, all suburban Des Moines, still in.

The Mississippi Athletic Conference, based in the Iowa Quad Cities, has four teams left. The Little Hawkeye Conference in central Iowa — they have Class 4A Indianola among their schools – have three alive.

All alone from the Missouri Rivers Activities Conference: Sergeant Bluff-Luton, the smallest school by a long shot among Council Bluffs and Sioux City schools and even newcomer LeMars is bigger. But the Warriors are the only bonafide playoff-level football program at this time.

  • As noted last week, Western Dubuque was the one defending state champion in elimination prior to the “round of 16.” Indeed, there will be a new Class 3A champion, as the Bobcats were ousted by West Delaware. All five other defending champions won Friday, mostly by big margins, and made the traditional playoffs.
  • Of the heavy hitters, the biggest surprise – heck, it was an absolute stunner and shocker – was Class 3A No. 4 Dallas Center-Grimes’ early exit. No doubt, Carlisle is a formidable team at 6-3, but the Wildcats absolutely demolished the Mustangs with a 490-yard rushing attack and a defensive effort that netted six turnovers, four of them interceptions. Wow!
  • This week saw just one game called off due to COVID-19, with Class A’s Clayton Ridge of Guttenberg sidelined. Their opponent-to-be, Edgewood-Colesburg, had a first-round bye and as a result, the Vikings made the traditional playoffs without playing a game.
  • With this year’s playoff structure, the argument is bound to continue: 16, 32 or “all in”?

Cody Goodwin of the Des Moines Register makes some good points about the argument for 16 in an editoral last week.

He cited the opening round of games as a prime example of why some teams belong on the sidelines. Of 122 games played, 59 – or nearly half – finished with a running clock, meaning decided by 35 or more points. Of those, 21 were decided by at least 50 points.

Granted, you’ll still have some woefully lopsided games even in the round of 16. Sometimes, you get those even as late as the state semifinals. The winning team is just that good.

The Ratings Percentage Index method used the past two seasons, Goodwin goes on, will leave some worthy teams out. Particularly if there a district has three teams tied for a district championship and all finished the regular season 8-1, but by fate of math, one team’s RPI falls just short.

“Many coaches have advocated for expanded playoffs. They believe in the spirit of competition and giving more kids and teams the opportunity to play in the post-season,” Goodwin wrote in his online column published last Thursday. “The coaches’ hearts are in the right place. But what’s the point of another opportunity if it means so many teams get run off the field? The opportunity to play in the post-season should be reserved for the best teams. It should be earned, not given.”

Will the spirit of earning your way into the playoffs continue? We’ll see next year.

Then again, you have to admit this year’s playoff structure has admittedly made quite a bit of money.

So the priority will be interesting to see: Will player safety win out? Will it be the idea of earning your way that drives the playoffs? Or will $p$r$o$f$i$t$ be the key influencer?

  • Again, and I’ll stress this every week, please drive safely to the games. Some of you will be driving long distances, and some of you will even make the loop to Fort Dodge to support local cross country athletes at the state meet before going to your playoff game, and may be on the road late at night.

Please be careful out there.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to or phone (712) 243-2624.

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